Champions League in 3 years: Espanyol chief

Rastar Group chief executive Chen Yansheng, at a news conference, says that he plans to invest another €45 million (S$70 million) to hasten the club's development.
Rastar Group chief executive Chen Yansheng, at a news conference, says that he plans to invest another €45 million (S$70 million) to hasten the club's development.PHOTO: REUTERS

MADRID • Struggling Primera Liga side Espanyol's new Chinese president Chen Yansheng has targeted Champions League football within three years, a day after taking charge of the Barcelona-based club.

His Rastar Group, which specialises in model cars, completed its 54 per cent takeover of the club for around €17 million (S$26.3 million) on Wednesday.

He has revealed that he plans to splash another €45 million to hasten the club's development.

"The internal objective we have in mind is to get into Europe next year," he told a press conference at Cornella-El Prat Stadium, with Espanyol manager Constantin Galca seated alongside the billionaire.

"I hope that it will be less than three years to be in the Champions League, although the coach is present and I don't want to put too much pressure on him."

Espanyol are currently in 14th place in Spain's La Liga, just five points above the relegation zone.

Moreover, the club, who were struggling with debts to the tax authorities, have perennially been overshadowed by city rivals and European champions Barcelona.

Espanyol have typically finished in mid-table over the past decade.

Their best finish in recent times was fifth in the 2004-05 season and they qualified for Europe again the following season by winning the King's Cup.

They lost to La Liga rivals Sevilla on penalties in the 2007 Uefa Cup final.

"I believe that a city like Barcelona can have two powerful clubs," added Chen.

"With our presence, Espanyol will not have to sell players for economic reasons."

The deal is the latest example of the rising influence of the Asian market on Spanish football.

"The investment is the first step in the internationalisation of the Rastar Group and also the first step in the internationalisation of Espanyol," said Chen, who will attend today's home game against Villarreal.

Last year, China's Wanda Group bought a 20 per cent stake in 2014 La Liga champions Atletico Madrid. Singaporean businessman Peter Lim is also the major shareholder in Valencia.

Fellow La Liga sides Rayo Vallecano and Real Sociedad are both sponsored by Chinese telecommunications company Qbao, which has stated that one of the aims of its sponsorship deal is to promote young Chinese talent.

China international and Rayo defender Zhang Chengdong made history last month when he became the first Chinese footballer to play in La Liga.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 23, 2016, with the headline 'Champions League in3 years: Espanyol chief'. Print Edition | Subscribe